On the theme of personal holiness and sanctification, there are three aspects to consider. First, upon salvation, we are once-for-all separated eternally unto Christ (Heb 10:10; Rom 6:17-18) – we are intimately connected with Him. Second, while we await the return of Christ, there is the practical experience of progressive holiness in the believer’s life (2 Cor 3:18; 1 Pet 1:15). Third, in our future state, we will be transformed into His perfect likeness – holy and sanctified (Phil 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2). For today’s reflection, I will focus on the second aspect – cultivating a life of progressive holiness. As we grow and mature in Christ, through daily spiritual renewal, we gradually become more Christ-like and this is a lifelong process as opposed to an instantaneous act.
Tim Challies interviewed John Piper in 2012 and asked him what he thought God’s purpose was in making sanctification a lifelong pursuit rather than an instantaneous act at the point of conversion. In response, John Piper said the following:
“[God] intentionally does not conquer all our sins in an instant, though He could. He could perfect us now…
And we know that God will finally throw Satan into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10) and take away his influence in the new world entirely…. He could do it now…but He doesn’t… So why is Satan allowed to rage, and why does God let us go on stumbling toward holiness? The largest answer is that God does all things for the greater display of His glory, and so this too must be for His glory. One clue to make this more specific comes from Rom 9:22-23. Paul asks rhetorically, “What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy?” Could God’s purpose in “enduring vessels of wrath” be a pointer to His enduring the sins of His people and the raging of his arch-enemy? In the case of those who do not repent, God’s patience intensifies the display of His power and wrath. And when God forgives His people 70 times 7 times 7 times 7, does He not intensify the display of His mercy? And does He not provide the most intense experiences of our own humbling and remorse as we see what becomes of us when we fail to trust God’s grace and power? And so God displays both our inadequacy and His all-merciful sufficiency in allowing us to go on stumbling toward holiness.”
What then is our role? First, we trust God to sanctify us because He is the one who changes our desires and makes us want to please Him, and He empowers us to do so (1 Thess 4:3; 2 Thess 2:13).
Second, we need to take active responsibility to choose to do what is right. The Bible teaches us to strive for holiness (Heb 12:14), to cleanse ourselves from every defilement (2 Cor 7:1), and to flee immorality (1 Cor 6:18). If we overemphasize asking God to sanctify us without concurrently taking active steps to cultivate spiritual discipline, this leads to spiritual laziness and a lack of maturity. If we overemphasize personal discipline without recognition that it is God who empowers, this leads to legalism, self-righteousness and a lack of joy in the Christian walk. We need to remember that as we cultivate progressive holiness, it is only by and through God’s empowering that we are able to do so.
“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” – Phil 1:6
By Rebecca Ang (YCKC Bulletin 8&9 June 2013)